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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine
by Hryhory Kostiuk

published in the U. S. A. by
Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 12

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p43  Chapter XI

First Signs of a New Course

Having overcome the opposition within the CP(b)U to his appointment and realizing that he would not be able to raise agricultural production in the Ukraine by terror alone, Postyshev arranged for a seed loan from the state and dispatched his trusted men to the villages to help with the sowing and harvesting. Now he could devote himself to his chief task, the destruction of Ukrainian "bourgeois nationalism."

First of all a suitable atmosphere had to be created to enable Postyshev to carry out his policy. The Ukrainian people had to look upon him as their friend and savior, the inhabitants of Kharkov as their patron and benefactor, schoolchildren as their beloved leader, the local Party members as their trusted leader. Therefore, on Postyshev's orders, when famine and privation were at their height, both in the Ukraine and in Kharkov, the capital was slated to receive a "new look." With feverish speed the streets, the parks, the public squares, and all the buildings in the Ukrainian capital were cleaned and made to look their best. Several churches were demolished (e.g. the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and the Church of the Holy Anointing) in order to make room for new public buildings, which, by the way, were never erected. The parks, in particular, were beauti­fied with great care and received new lawns and flowerbeds. In the center of the University Park a large monument to Shevchenko by the well-known Leningrad artist, Manizer, was prepared for unveiling. In connection with this, Trotsky made the following trenchant remark:

The Soviet Ukraine has become an administrative part of the economic complex and the military base of the USSR for the totalitarian bureaucracy. Stalin's bureaucracy, it is true, erects statues to Shevchenko, but only in order to press with this monument on the Ukrainian people, to force them to eulogize the Kremlin violators in the language of the Kobzar.1

At the same time, the so‑called "commercial" or "Postyshev" bread appeared on sale in some of the stores. Although supplies were scanty, the propaganda value was considerable. In Kharkov legends were circulated by Soviet propagandists  p44 about Postyshev's concern for the welfare of the ordinary population. According to these stories, Postyshev, disguised as a worker, went to various workers' quarters and asked for a meal. He was either refused or else given the common type of soup — balanda. He then visited the stores and learned that most common articles were unobtainable. Later, Postyshev returned to these districts and held Party meetings pointing out the shortages and drawbacks. As a result, the workers, so the story ended, received more food and commodities. Similar stories were circulated about Postyshev's trips to the villages. They were all designed to idolize Stalin's plenipotentiary in the Ukraine, and to make him popular with the people.

Postyshev himself understood very well the value of popularity. He visited kindergartens and schools and saw to it that photographs, showing him in the midst of children, were frequently published in the daily press. The irresistible power of suggestion which this propaganda produced is demonstrated in a recent sketch of Postyshev.2

Not being able to feed and satisfy everybody, Postyshev took care to provide for the Soviet bureaucracy on which he had to rely. Special dining halls for officials of the Party and the administration were established in all the large Ukrainian cities. A former Soviet Ukrainian describes one such dining hall for Party officials in Pehrybyshcha:​a

Day and night it was guarded by militia keeping the starving peasants and their children away from the restaurant; their terrible appearance alone could ruin the appetite of the "builders of socialism." In the dining room, at very low prices, where bread, meat, poultry, canned fruit and delicacies, wines and sweets were served to district bosses. At the same time, the employees of the dining hall were issued the so‑called Mikoyan ration, which contained 20 different articles of food. Around these oases famine and death were raging.3

There can be no doubt that the privileged class of Party officials and managers were enjoying the benefits of Postyshev's rule in the Ukraine.

Another slogan, devised to mitigate austerity and drabness in the Soviet upper class was: "abolish boredom." Party gatherings were to be regarded as social occasions, to be held in a friendly atmosphere, with tea or vodka served at the conclusion of business meetings. More gaiety was encouraged in public life. Following an article in Pravda, Western (bourgeois) dance music was allowed in the USSR. The foxtrot and the tango were heard in places of public amusement. Parties given by various departments of the Soviet government at the public expense became quite frequent.

This banqueting in the land of the dead was part of the setting for Postyshev's next move. While dissemination of the new "happy life" slogans was in full swing, and the city dwellers were smothering in a thick smoke of propaganda, the following  p45 changes took place in the Soviet Ukrainian government. On March 1, 1933, Visti, the organ of the CC of the CP(b)U announced that:

1) P. P. Lyubchenko had been appointed first Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR.

2) M. O. Skrypnyk had been relieved of his duties as Ukrainian Commissar of Education and appointed Chairman of the State Planning Commission of the Ukrainian SSR.

3) V. P. Zatonsky had been relieved of his duties as Commissar of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection and appointed to the post of Commissar of Education, formerly held by Skrypnyk.

4) V. K. Sukhomlin had been appointed Commissar of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection.

5) Ya. M. Dudnyk had been relieved of his duties as Chairman of the State Planning Commission and Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR and appointed first Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Commission.

A few days later, Visti4 carried news of more changes in the Soviet Ukrainian government:

1) The Central Committee of the CP(b)U has elected M. M. Popov5 as its secretary, and placed him in charge of the Propaganda and Press Section of the CC of the CP(b)U.

2) The Presidium of the Ukrainian Executive Committee has announced the appointment of the former chief of the Propaganda and Press Section of the CC, CP(b)U, A. A. Khvylya,6 to the post of Deputy Commissar of Education of the Ukrainian SSR.

3) A. A. Karpenko has been dismissed from his post as Deputy Commissar of Education of the Ukrainian SSR.

 p46  These changes were not merely a re‑shuffle of the Soviet Ukrainian government — they foreshadowed a drastic crisis for the rulers of the Ukrainian SSR. An even clearer indication of this crisis was the announcement, made at the same time, of the uncovering of a major anti-Soviet conspiracy, which allegedly was active primarily in the Ukraine. As a result of this sensational disclosure by the OGPU, 35 men were sentenced to be executed as enemies of the state.7 At their head was F. M. Konar (real name Palashchuk), a Western Ukrainian who had risen to be Deputy Chairman of the Commission of Agriculture of the USSR. The charge against Konar and the other men was that they had attempted to sabotage the agricultural effort in the Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and Belorussia. Konar and 34 associates were executed, 22 others were sentenced to 10 years, and 18 to 8 years in jail. For those who could read between the lines, the "conspiracy" of Konar had an obvious relation to the changes in the government: both were indicative of Postyshev's new course.8

This was one of the first times in the USSR that an old member of the Party and a high official, Ukrainian by birth, and responsible for Ukrainian agriculture, was tried by the OGPU and executed on charges of counter-revolution. This indeed was a memento mori given to the top Ukrainian Communists, as if to warn them that their Party record and standing would be of no avail, should they be accused of similar crimes.

The most significant change in the government was the removal of Skrypnyk from his post as Minister of Education. Yet he was replaced by another Ukrainian Communist, Zatonsky, and two former Borotbists, Lyubchenko and Khvylya, were elevated to responsible government posts. On the surface these moves did not portend an anti-Ukrainian course. Unless — was Postyshev selecting Ukrainians to purge other Ukrainians?

The Author's Notes:

1 L. Trotsky, "Ob ukrainskom voprose" (About the Ukrainian Problem), Byulleten oppozitsii, 77‑78, May, June, July, 1939, p6. When Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet of the mid‑nineteenth century, published his first collection of poems in 1840 it bore the title Kobzar. The kobzars, whose instrument was the kobza or bandura, were bards of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who represented to the Ukrainians a living link with their past (see Morris John Diakowsky, "The Bandura," The Ukrainian Trend, New York, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1958).

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2 Soviet Political Personalities; Seven Profiles, New York, Research Program on the USSR, 1952, pp7‑12.

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3 Vysochenko, op. cit., p19.

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4 Visti, March 3, 1933.

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5 M. Popov, a former Russian Menshevik, a member of the Communist Party since 1919, was one of the few high officials of the Party who, during his service in the Ukraine, became an adherent of the Ukrainian trend in the CP(b)U. He was also known as a historian of the CP(b)U, author of Ocherki istorii KP(b)U (A Sketch of the History of the CP(b)U), Kharkov, 1929.

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6 A. Khvylya acquired notoriety in 1925‑29 as the chief Party spokesman against Khvylovy. A former Borotbist, who joined the CP(b)U in 1918, he was a prominent journalist. In several emigre sources his name is often incorrectly identified as a pseudonym of Musulbas (e.g. R. Smal-Stocki, The Nationality Problem of the Soviet Union, Milwaukee, 1952). Khvylya and Musulbas were two different men, both members of the CC, CP(b)U (cf. list of members of the CC, Visti, January 23, 1934). The confusion of their names probably resulted from a misreading of the Shumsky letter to the CC, CP(b)U, on February 3, 1927 (Budivnytstvo radyanskoi Ukrainy, I, 135). Majstrenko (op. cit.) gives separate profiles of Khvylya and Musulbas. Very little is known of Khvylya's early life (he was born in 1898 in Khotyn uezd) and his real name has not been discovered. D. Solovey, in an unpublished manuscript on the purge of Poltava (preserved in the Ukrainian Academy in the United States), offers a conjecture that Khvylya's real name was Olinter.

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7 "Povidomlennya OHPU" (An Announcement by the OGPU), Visti, March 5, 1933; "Ot kollegii OGPU" (From the Collegium of the OGPU), Pravda, March 12, 1933.

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8 During the trial of Rykov and Bukharin in 1938, the former Finance Minister of the USSR, G. F. Hrynko, a Ukrainian, testified that a "nationalist organization in the Ukraine was preparing an uprising against the Soviet government . . . to aid the partisan warfare, [the enemies] maintained liaison through Konar . . ." Pravda, March 4, 1938.

Thayer's Note:

a Pohrebyshche is probably meant, about 140 km SW of Kyiv. It has never been a large city. Its population today is about 9,000.

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Page updated: 27 Jan 23